It needs to be exposed as a big public enemy. It has entered the psyche of modern day life with more penetration than TV, computers and dairy, all of which are remarkably bad for you. It is an industry unto itself so powerful that no one – politicians, journalists, even musicians, has the acoustic nerve to stand up to it. I’m referring to the infamous ‘cotton-tipped applicator’, or as they are more popularly known by one brand name, the Q-tip.
Serious eardrum injuries, tinnitus and compounding the global impacted cerumen epidemic, are the biggest problems. However, I should point out that Q-tips don’t harm people: people harm people! On a side note, I’m not pro-gun, I’m just anti-bullet. People can have all the guns they want, but we should make bullets illegal. Let’s start ‘bullet control lobby’. Anyway, getting back to Q-tips, they do actually place warnings on their packaging telling people not to insert them into their ears.
Not a day goes by at the urgent care without my having to chastise yet another Q-tip-wounded patient. I had 3 of them on Friday at Downtown Urgent Care. Archaeologists have discovered ivory ‘ear spoons’ dating back millennia, showing that we have been digging around in our years since forever.
While excess, hard, or obstructive earwax can be problematic, most earwax or cerumen is infinitely more beneficial. It is a normal, protective coating for the sensitive skin of the ear canal. A canal coated with ear wax will repel water and help prevent external ear infections. When you dig it out like some demented gold miner, you leave your ear very vulnerable.
Since we do not have the ability to look inside our own ears at the present time (you can buy a video otoscope for under a thousand dollars if you want), most Q-tip users blindly probe around looking for yellow, often getting red instead. Many will look at their wax-stained swab with pride and admiration of a job well done. Eventually, they will go too far and injure or rupture their eardrums. If it wasn’t for pain and blood, I suspect that some people would excavate around until they pulled out little bones or brain tissue. Perhaps, many have already done that. Perhaps this would explain our lawyers and politicians better.
Q-tips are not unlike the plungers used to load cannon. They can pack softer wax deeply in the ear canal against the eardrum. By creating a formidable plug and preventing the eardrum from moving normally, it is quite easy to cause some significant hearing loss. Water can also be trapped behind these self-created wax dams and entertain you by constant sloshing around. When this happens, the ear will need to be lavaged — washed out by a gentle stream of warm water. Or, you will need to see your medical provider, someone that CAN look inside your ear and remove the impaction professionally.
Chronic Q-tip use creates dryness in the sensitive ear canal. Dry skin itches. People with itchy ears use Q-tips (and other found objects) to scratch them. The scratching causes itching. Do you see the cycle here? Eventually, the damaged skin will break down and crack, allowing opportunistic bacteria or icky fungus to invade. Congratulations. You have caused otitis externa, also known as Swimmer's Ear.
Speaking of swimmers, chronic water exposure can wash out all of the protective wax, too, causing the water to remain in the ear canal. In order to remove the water, people will use Q-tips, or put drops of drying alcohol in the ear canal, often making the matters worse.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Q-tip; a fine, well-made product. They have hundreds of clever uses. As long as you don’t put them INSIDE your ears, they are a safe product. In the hands of the uninformed however, they are true Weapons of Ear Destruction.